Moana: The First Polynesian Disney Princess

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Castles and beautiful gowns. That's what comes into our mind when hear Disney movie. Well, the Disney magic isn't only about in beautiful gowns while singing around a castle. Sometimes it's on a small island surrounded by the clear blue ocean, and a simple girl with a dream of exploring the ocean and a big heart of helping people—Moana!


(image source: Moana via Twitter)

Moana is a 3D animation, adventure, musical, and comedy film directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, and produced by Osnat Shurer. The film was released on the 23rd of November 2016 and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Production company for Moana are Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

The film stars the voices of Auli'i Cravalho (Moana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Rachel House (Gramma Tala), Temuera Morrison (Chief Tui), Jemaine Clement (Tamatoa), Nicole Scherzinger (Sina), and Alan Tudyk (Heihei). The film earned a worldwide gross of $643,331,111.

The 56th animated film of Disney won awards at the Annie Awards (Outstanding Achievement in Animated Effects in an Animated Production and Outstanding Achievement in Voice Acting in an Animated feature Production), ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (Top Box Office Films), Behind the Voice Actors Awards (Best Female Lead Vocal Performance in a Feature Film), Grammy Awards (Best Song Written for Visual Media), Hawaii Film Critics Society (Best Song and Best Hawaii Film), Teen Choice Awards (Choice Movie Actor: Fantasy), and Women Film Critics Circle Awards (Best Animated Female). Moana also had 2 nominations at the Oscars. Overall, the film have 20 wins and 84 nominations. (See full list of awards and nominations HERE.


(video source: Ron_Clements via bitLanders)

Moana is the teenage daughter of Sina and the chief of Motunui island, chief Tui. A story runs in their island for a thousand years about the goddess Te Fiti, a mother island who has a powerful heart in a stone form that can bring life to the ocean and islands. Due to its power of creation, people wanted to posses Te Fiti's heart.

(image source: Moana via Twitter)

One of which who successfully stole it was Maui, a shapeshifting demigod of the water and wind. However, he encountered the volcanic demon, Te Ka, while making his escape. He was beaten, losing his magical fishhook and the heart in the depths of the ocean.

(image source: Moana via Twitter)

At a young age, Moana was already chosen by the ocean to bring back the heart to Te Fiti but was stopped when her father arrived to get her out from the shore. Her parents kept her away from the ocean as much as possible because she needs to be safe as she will be the next island's chief. When she reached her teenage years, the island of Motunui began to crumble. Coconuts began rotting and the number of fishes were depleting resulting to a very little harvest. Moana then suggested that they fish outside the reef but her father immediately turned down the idea and told that it was very dangerous. Despite her father's warning, she sailed the ocean but failed to get past the reef when her boat was wrecked by the strong waves. She was brought back to the shore of Motunui where she was met by her grandmother.

Gramma Tala brought Moana to a secret cave where Moana discovered that they are originally voyagers. Gramma Tala also told Moana that the ocean has chosen Moana and she needs to find Maui to restore the heart of Te Fiti. Moana headed to the village's meeting and revealed that they were voyagers, and they need to restore Te Fiti's heart to stop the corruption of nature. Her father dragged Moana out of the meeting and scolded her for her revelation. At the middle of his scolding, they were called to return immediately because Gramma Tala was suddenly ill. Before her death, Gramma Tala told Moana to go into the ocean and do her mission.

Moana sailed into the ocean at the middle of the night. A typhoon caused her to have no control of the boat bringing her to an island where Maui is. The demigod locked Moana in a cave and escaped the island using her boat. However, Moana was able to escape the cave and caught up to the demigod.

(image source: Moana via Twitter)

On the middle of persuading Maui to help her, Kakamora or the coconut-armored pirates, suddenly appeared to steal Te Fiti's heart. Maui was able to fend off the pirates at first but the pirates eventually got the stone by capturing Heihei who swallowed the stone. Maui told that they should escape instead of retrieving the stone back, but Moana charged into the pirates' ship to bring back Heihei. Finally convincing Maui to help her, he requested that they get his magical fishhook back from Tamatoa who lives in Lalotai, a realm for sea monsters. They were able to get the magical fishhook and escape the realm by distracting Tamatoa with a fake heart of Te Fiti. Maui then explains the tattoo on his back and told that he was not born a demigod but was found by the gods and was only gifted with the magical fishhook. He also has a little Maui tattoo on his chest which acts as his conscience and reflects his truest feelings.

(image source: Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Maui practiced his shapeshifting power to get used to it again while heading to Te Fiti's island. As they got near the island, Te Ka appeared to attack them. Unable to defeat Te Ka, Maui told Moana to get away but Moana insisted to continue. Maui fought Te Ka's powerful hit which caused his magical fishhook to be heavily damaged. Feeling powerless without the fishhook, he gave up helping Moana and left. Meanwhile, Moana returned the stone into the ocean as she felt she couldn't do the mission anymore. Gramma Tala's spirit suddenly appeared on the boat to encourage and remind her how far she have come. Moana then went back for Te Fiti's heart under the ocean to finish the mission even without Maui. She fixed the boat and sailed to Te Fiti's island using the wayfinding skills she learned from Maui. Te Ka appeared as she came closer to the island. Getting past Te Ka, Maui suddenly appeared to keep Te Ka away from chasing Moana.

Discovering that Te Ka was Te Fiti, Moana raised the heart and commanded the water to let Te Fiti come to her. The water split in half and Te Fiti crawled to Moana's direction. As soon as she returns Te Fiti's heart, Te Fiti returns to her goddess form. The islands and the ocean came back to life. Maui also apologized to Te Fiti for everything he has done. And despite what he did, Te Fiti restored Maui's fishhook to which he gladly thanked the goddess. Te Fiti went back to sleep and turned into an island. Moana then returned to Motunui and was happily welcomed back by her parents. The boats hidden in the cave were brought out and she accepted the role as the chief. They soon sailed into the ocean, with her leading the people and by being their wayfinder.



(image source: Moana via Twitter)

Director Clement and Musker are used to hand-drawn animations but they thought of using 3D animation for the film Moana to better achieve the texture and lighting of the ocean. The characters' body structure would also be shown better in 3D. They went off to the South Pacific islands many times together with several film crews to research and get inspiration from the boats, houses, islands and the ocean itself. They wanted the film to bring a realistic feel in every aspect. The islands on the film weren't exactly the same as the islands found in the South Pacific. They were only inspirations. Motunui was based from Samoa while Te Fiti was based from Tahiti.

If Frozen has ice and snow, Moana has the ocean. I have never seen the ocean as beautiful and shimmering as the ones in this film. It was perfect. The color was so gorgeous and spectacular, it makes me want to dive into the waters even though I can't swim. No wonder why Moana was so engrossed with the ocean. I also have to add the beautiful animation of the island. The trees, fruits, movements of the leaves, and especially the very realistic look of the moss on the stones on top of the mountain was very impressive. The movements of little Moana running was super cute too! On another note, they used 2D animation for Maui's tattoos.


Auli'i Cravalho was a newcomer back then but she did a superb job voicing Moana. She brought colors to Moana's character that everyone had loved. There's Dwayne Johnson too who voiced Maui. Hearing him voice a character like Maui was fun. It was kind of different from his usual action star roles. Another actor was Alan Tudyk who voices Moana's pet rooster, Heihei. While watching the film, I was wondering if Heihei's voice was from a real rooster but it turned out that a human was behind the voice. Even though just voicing a rooster, I think Alan did an excellent job because I was fooled. I also have to mention Nicole Scherzinger who voiced Moana's mother and Jemaine Clement who voiced the treasure hoarder crab, Tamatoa. Everyone in the cast did an awesome job voicing their characters. 


(image source: Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Just like for the location and boats, the characters and their costumes were inspired from Samoa. I honestly get a Lilo or Pocahontas vibe when I first saw Moana, and it's a refreshing sight to see a Disney princess with a sun-kissed skin. On the other hand, the costumes of the people from Motunui were so lovely. The flower and shell accessories will just make you want to go on a tropical island like Hawaii. Moana's costume at the end of the movie when she finally took the role as the chief was extremely gorgeous. It's not a gown but it has its own beauty and class. Meanwhile, Maui's tattoos were inspired from the Marquesan tattoos.

I also have to mention the cute characters in the film: Pua, Kakamora, and Heihei! Pua is the cutest pet piglet. The Kakamora, even though they appear evil, have cute designs. Each of them has a unique design as well. Last, is the funny and dumb rooster, Heihei! I honestly laughed when I first saw how the roosters looked like especially Heihei. Their bodies were quite little while their eyes were huge and bulging. Heihei provided so much humor in the film. I never thought I would love a rooster this much.


(video source: DisneyMusicVEVO via Youtube)

"How Far I'll Go" was simply 2016's "Let It Go." (It's addicting, I'm actually singing it while I'm writing this blog.) The soundtrack of Moana was so good the ears. The melodies were so fun, lively, and the lyrics were very inspirational and will motivate you to pursue your dreams. Auli'i Cravalho has a beautiful singing voice at such a young age. It sounded theatrical, perfect for a Disney princess.

The song "How Far I'll Go" was nominated as Best Original Song at the 89th Oscars and 74th Golden Globe Awards. It was translated to 44 languages including a Filipino version by Janella Salvador which was used in the ending credits in the Philippine release of the film. There's also a Southeast Asian languages mash up version and a 24 languages mash up around the world. Alessia Cara also made a version of the song "How Far I'll Go" which was used in the ending credits on the English version of the film. Meanwhile, VoicePlay with Rachel Potter made a version of the songs from the film. Truly, the musical scenes are one of the major recipes of what we call the "Disney magic" on its films.

(Here are some of the behind the scenes of the film.)



(image source: Moana via Twitter)

Heihei's character tells us that despite being unsure and naive about things, there will be someone who will guide us to the right path and do the right things. Someone loves and cares for you no matter how crazy you appear to most. Heihei may just be a rooster with bulging eyes but we can definitely learn something from this cute but slightly cracked animal. Same goes for Moana who has the ocean and Gramma Tala to guide her on her mission.


Maui tried to be the hero to help people and give them things they need in life. He was a demigod with a power in a form of a giant fishhook granted by the gods, but in the end, he was still sad. He defined himself and his happiness with how people saw him. Moana then tells Maui that what makes him himself is him. This tells us that no one could ever tell who we are except ourselves. Happiness must come from within us and not through anyone or anything around us. If we are happy and had accepted who we are, no one can ever influence and bring us down.


Evil is the absence of love. When Te Fiti's heart was stolen, she turned into a demon made of fire and magma. She's full of hatred and wreaks havoc to anyone who comes close to the island. The islands in the region were slowly dying and crumbling into darkness too. When Moana restored her heart, Te Fiti returned to the loving and caring goddess she was. This shows us that hatred and other selfish evil thoughts will only corrupt ourselves. Instead, we should show love and compassion, because with it comes peace and unity.


Moana and the people in the village never knew that they were voyagers. Their true identity has been kept secret from them until Gramma Tala told Moana. The villagers were stuck living on the island when in fact, their tribe was meant to travel the seas and the oceans. The film teaches us to always remember where we came from no matter how far you've come or whatever you have become in the present. Who you are today is influenced by occurrences and people in your past.


Chief Tui wants Moana to stay on the island and never sail to the ocean. He repeatedly said that all she needs in life were already on the island, and that she need nothing more of what's beyond the ocean. Chief Tui teaches us that all we need in life are the basic necessities. We don't need a lot of things to feel contented in life. Life is simple. If we know how to be satisfied, we'll be more genuinely happy too.


I can lead with pride
I can make us strong
I'll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me
- How Far I'll Go

(image source: Moana via Twitter)

In contrary to Chief Tui's lesson of being satisfied, Moana tells us to listen to the voice inside us because that's when we'll know who we really are and what we really want in life. She sailed the ocean alone even though going to the ocean was strictly forbidden by her father. If she didn't try, all of them could've died along with the perishing island. Moana also conveys that you'll never know if something would work out unless you try. What's good about her is that she followed her decision to sail and also accepted the role of being the chief to lead the people when she returned home. Sometimes your gut feelings make the best decisions too. If there's someone who knows what's best for you, it will only be yourself. Trust your instincts.


What makes Moana different from the rest of the Disney fairy tale stories was the absence of a prince or a love interest. This shows that Moana is independent on her own. She's strong and doesn't need to be saved by a prince charming. Well, she does have friends and sidekicks too like the rest of the Disney princesses. Moana represents a woman with strength, that a prince charming have become an option.


(image source: Moana via Twitter)

Moana is a film that would greatly inspire people, especially young girls, to follow their dreams and believe in themselves. The beautiful animation, alluring and breathtaking crystal blue ocean, inspirational catchy musical songs, and the lessons we get from the story makes this film a magically one of a kind Disney film. Disney definitely never fails to bring us the best animated films.

Thanks for reading!

✧ Katsanslimites

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